Siuslaw School District hopes to fill gaps with Wish List

Dec. 6, 2017 — When people don’t get what they need, they sometimes wish for it. When they need more, they might make a list. That is what local schoolteachers are doing.

The Siuslaw School District Wish List began about three years ago when the district could not afford certain materials teachers needed to give their students a fair chance — both in class and in the working world.

“Either there aren’t funds available,” says Siuslaw Elementary Principal Mike Harklerode, or some requested materials would affect “so few students that it’s not the most efficient use of our funds. The Wish List helps us to satisfy specific needs for staff and kids.”

The current Wish List ranges from white boards to “AA” batteries for computer keyboards to video production equipment to fifth-grade teachers wishing for skilled workers to install classroom projectors in ceilings.

Such requests were cut from the district’s budget to enable it to retain a full teaching staff.

“We chose to cut our materials and supplies across the district in order to balance the budget, preserving all staffing,” says Business Manager Kari Blake.

She emphasizes that while “funding is up in total for Oregon schools, the per-pupil amount has not been increased. There are more students entering schools in Oregon, which leaves fewer dollars to spread around.”

Also, Blake adds, “substantial increases” in the teacher’s retirement system have further burdened school districts financially.

For decades, teachers have reached into their own pockets to pay for materials that school budgets could not provide. It used to be just reams of paper or pens and pencils, but in this digital age, high-tech teaching tools cost more.

The PTA has fulfilled some off-budget requests, but not all, according to school board member Paul Burns, who encouraged development of the Wish List.

The Wish List still includes items like paper reams, art sketchbooks and paints. But today, from the third-grade up, education is largely computer-based, just like the work environments many students will enter. Students also respond well to computer-based learning because they’ve grown up with the Internet as a source of entertainment and social interaction.

Students still read textbooks, but online teaching tools give them an edge.

For example, Google Chromebooks “have proven to be a very useful tool for homework,” says Special Programs Director Lisa Utz, and for developing “skills such as writing and keyboarding, collaboration, speaking and presentation, and time management. Apps like speech-to-text can make a huge difference; without that app some [students] may struggle so hard with the output of their thoughts that they are stifled.”

This year, the district used an $825 Wish List donation from the Florence Area Democratic Club to purchase materials ranging from traditional printed books to an online teaching supplement.

Third-grade teacher Dolly Greene received 17 copies of a book by an Oregon State University wildlife biologist about natural habitats and journal-keeping on field trips.

The books can be shared with other third-grade teachers and makes a permanent resource for students.

In sixth-grade science classes, McKenzie Perry’s students can now visit for additional articles about classroom content.

“The website also comes with educational games and quizzes,” Perry points out, “that will help me see their growth as well as provide extra practice for kids who need it.”

Fulfilled Wish List requests evoke gratitude among teachers and administrators alike.

“We really appreciate the Wish List and the donors that have helped us fill some of the items on it,” says High School Principal Kerri Tatum. “Unfortunately, we are not always able to buy all of the supplies that our teachers need, so this has really helped us fill in some of those gaps.”

For Perry, the support is touching.

“Having community members step up and help out with these things is so wonderful and makes us feel so supported by the community,” she says.

“The Wish List provides an avenue for those in the community that want to participate, but may not have time to volunteer,” Utz says. “Knowing that the gift they give will directly affect students can be a way to feel connected. It can also be a very meaningful way to choose how to give to the schools, as each item on the wish list is individual and unique, as individual and unique as our Florence community.”

Readers can visit the Wish List through the school district’s home page at www.siuslaw.k12. Click on the link to “Siuslaw School District Wish List.”

Cash donations in any amount are also welcome. Cash, goods, or services all qualify as tax-deductible, charitable donations.

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